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President Obama to Convene Security Council Summit on Foreign Terrorist Fighters
September 4, 2014

Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Press Conference on the September Program of Work for the UN Security Council

Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
New York, NY
September 3, 2014


AMBASSADOR POWER: Hello, everybody. Okay, sorry to keep you waiting. Forgive, and thank you again for coming.

A short while ago, members of the Security Council unanimously adopted the September program of work. As you all well know, September is a very busy time for the UN, made busier by the attention the Council must pay to pressing issues of peace and security around the world.

I just finished briefing non-member states on the Council’s agenda this month and will now give you a similar rundown before going to your questions. We have a very busy schedule that includes several important meetings, and I will start by just providing you with the highlights.

The headline, of course, is on September 25th, when President Obama will convene a Security Council summit to draw high-level international attention and action to the growing and dangerous phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters. This meeting will be at the head of state or head of government level. Events of the last couple of months, particularly with regards to the expansion of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, have driven this point home, including sadly yesterday, as you all saw.

We’re seeing a surge in terrorists traveling from around the globe specifically to fight in foreign conflicts. These fighters participate in brutal atrocities in the countries they travel to and often return home radicalized by their experiences.

The Secretary-General has accepted our invitation to brief. We will seek Council consensus on the severity of this threat and the need for collective action. We will encourage international cooperation to prevent foreign terrorist fighter travel and underscore the centrality of countering violent extremism through positive narratives and programs that give would-be fighters alternatives to violence and we will deepen the UN’s institutional involvement on this critical issue at this critical time.

We also look forward to convening an open debate on children in armed conflict. The open debate will focus on the Secretary-General’s annual report, which lists eight countries for grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict and 51 non-state actors. I would note that Boko Haram has been listed in this report for the first time.

Starting this month – starting the month off tomorrow, Special Coordinator Sigrid Kaag will brief on the implementation of Resolution 2118 on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons program. And at the end of the month, Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos will brief on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

We will hold sessions on the UN missions in Libya and Liberia, on Libya and Iran sanctions, the Middle East, and UNDOF, on which the Council, as you know, just held an urgent session in any other business.

The September 15th UNSMIL session will be an important opportunity for the Council to hear from newly appointed Special Representative Leon on the escalating violence in Libya and on efforts to find a political solution. The Council will meet with troop contributors to the UN missions in Liberia and Haiti. And we have one scheduled adoption, which is to renew the mandate of UNMIL.

Special Representative Honore will brief during the semi-annual MINUSTAH debate on September 11th. This session will provide the Council with an update on Haiti’s political situation as well as the Secretary-General’s proposal to reduce the mission’s force levels.

Special Representative Kubis will brief on the Secretary-General’s recent report on UNAMA during the September 18th debate. Through this meeting, the Council will, of course, be able to take stock of Afghanistan’s progress toward a political transition, which, as you know, is at a very delicate – in a very delicate phase.
We will also follow closely a number of other troubling situations around the globe, in particular, of course, the situations in Ukraine and Iraq. We have asked the Departments of Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations to keep the Council updated on emerging threats to international peace and security. And should the need require it, we will schedule such briefings under other matters on the Council’s agenda or we will schedule separate meetings.

Finally, I’ll plan to keep you all updated regularly on Security Council consultations, and we will be in constant communication, I’m sure, over these days and weeks.

Let me also say one thing about high-level week. I know many of you have questions about the President’s schedule and Secretary Kerry’s schedule and so forth. Let me just say that these details are still being finalized. We may be able to get back to you and do something like this later in the month when we have some of those details fleshed out, but I won’t be able to give you probably some of the specifics that you’re hungering for today, and particularly as it relates to non Security Council events. But again, as soon as I have information that’s been pinned down, I will be as transparent with you as I can be.

With that, I’d be happy to take your questions on September’s program of work or on other issues in my national capacity.


QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador Power. On behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, thanks for the briefing. We’re looking forward to the month. I’m Pamela Falk from CBS News. My question is about the 25th, the Security Council meeting. You mentioned some of the goals. Do you think – do you believe that the Security Council will support a use of force against ISIS? And what are you looking for in terms of product – a resolution or press statement, or what do you think? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR POWER: Thank you. I – we have really just begun to engage with the full Council on what a potential product might look like. So beyond the kind of top lines that I gave you, I’m not going to get into more specifics. It is clear that national governments need – all of us need to do more, given what has become a phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters, of these guys going out to war zones and coming back and posing threats of the most profound kind to their fellow citizens, I’d guess you say.

So we are bringing in, in the coming days, all kinds of expertise from also outside UN circles. In my national capacity, I can say we’re drawing on the expertise of the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice. There are legal aspects of this within national systems that are quite complicated. But it will be extremely important for countries that have experience seeking to deal with this issue to share those experiences and share concerns they have about the gaps that exist, again, at the national level, at the regional level, and then internationally.

So the overwhelming message that we’ve heard from every Council country at this point is a great enthusiasm for the Council to step in and see what we can do, again, to try to ensure that practices and regimes are stronger for trying to prevent this problem.

On your – sort of part of your question was on use of force. And the actions that the United States and our partners are taking in Iraq today, I don’t have to tell you, are actions that are – that have been requested by the Iraqi Government. And the Council has been very clear in response to briefings by the Secretary-General, by Special Representative Mladenov, how much support there has been for responding to the requests of the Iraqi Government. So no authorization is required.

You saw from Secretary Kerry’s op-ed over the weekend and the efforts that he and all of us are making on the President’s request that we are seeking to build a coalition that helps the parties on the ground and beyond Iraq, also our friends in the region, deal with what has become a regional phenomenon. So we are building that coalition. Again, that is happening well beyond anything that we could do in the Council.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Edith Lederer from the Associated Press. Madam Ambassador, we understand that negotiations are going on right now on a resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire to try and ensure that it becomes permanent with some kind of monitoring, verification, and some other measures. Could you tell us whether the United States supports this and whether you expect Council action on this in the coming weeks before the GA starts?

AMBASSADOR POWER: Thank you, Edie. I’d say a few things. First, there is now a ceasefire in place that has held in recent days, and our first point of reference here would be to make sure that nothing we do be unhelpful as it relates to current talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which are meant to resume, as you know, in Cairo. So that’s a do-no-harm proposition that I think we should always keep in mind here in New York.

The second point I’d make though is that, yes, we have been engaging – we, the United States; I’m speaking in my national capacity – we’ve been engaged for some time within the Council on a number of ideas about how the Council might potentially contribute to the effort to secure a sustainable ceasefire. Those discussions are continuing, and the United States is of the view that a Council product could conceivably play a positive role in supporting a durable solution. And as you indicated, those discussions are underway. But again, our emphasis is going to be on what the Council can do that will be additive and seen as additive by the parties on the ground, given that there is a calm of sorts that we very much seek to preserve.

MODERATOR: In the back. Lou from Reuters.

QUESTION: Thanks. Ambassador, I wanted to follow up on the issue of the foreign fighters resolution. In a recently adopted resolution, there was extensive language on the issue of foreign fighters, and I’m wondering if you’re hoping to push this forward, going beyond that language.

And then on the question of UNDOF, do you think that it might be helpful to clarify the mandate, as some countries have suggested might be necessary, to make sure that it’s possible for UNDOF to respond robustly in situations like they encountered recently in Golan? Thanks.

AMBASSDOR POWER: Thank you, Lou. Let me take your UNDOF question first, then come back to the foreign terrorist fighter question, particularly because UNDOF is freshest in our minds because we’ve just come from hearing from Under Secretary General Ladsous.

I think there is no question that the circumstances that UNDOF finds itself in are vastly different than anything UNDOF had experienced before, let’s say, the last year. I mean – so for – since 1974 to the present, the idea of having terrorist groups at your doorstep, the exchanges of fire of the kind that we’ve seen across that area, frankly, the flight of refugees across the area – all of these are issues that UNDOF was not established – those are issues that have come up, needless to say, subsequent to the creation of UNDOF’s mandate.

We have not heard yet from the Secretariat and from the force commander on the ground that a mandate revision is required. We have heard requests and have, as a UN community, tried to be responsive to requests for different kinds of weaponry, different sort of ways of enhancing the tactics that UNDOF is employing, making sure that they’re able to follow through on their rules of engagement, which I think have evolved in light of the circumstances.

So I think at the heart of your question is something we agree with, which is that there is a recognition that circumstances are very different for these observers than they were when this mandate was created. I think what I heard from the Security Council this morning was a great openness to being responsive to the requests from headquarters or from the field, as best we can, to make sure that the mission is appropriately tailored to the circumstances on the ground.

But I also want to underscore that the original purpose is still critically important, which is to oversee the disengagement there. And so it is still – if anything, the conflict in Syria, which has spilled over in a variety of ways into the broader region, only underscores how important it is for us to continue to have observers there monitoring disengagement and trying to prevent further spillover.

On your first question on the foreign terrorist fighters and sort of distinguishing it from the British effort and Resolution 2170, I would say we were well aware of our plans for our presidency and for President Obama’s role in the summit when we worked with the British and other Council members on 2170, so we all had in mind that this would lay a foundation, show the world that there is a consensus that the question of foreign terrorist fighters has to be dealt with on an urgent basis.

There was no way to talk about ISIL in the way that we did in that resolution without talking about the foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon, but certainly to have a standalone resolution for the first time on foreign terrorist fighters getting at the national – the steps that national governments need to take, emphasizing some of what needs to be done in the realm of countering violent extremism, because of course, as we’ve seen in Iraq, military force by the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish forces on the ground has been very important and supported by the United States and other partners, in certain instances from the air. But there’s no comprehensive solution or no durable solution to either the problem of ISIL or the problem of foreign terrorist fighters that doesn’t go back and require us to look at the full range of prevention, prosecutorial, and other tools.

So we are very confident that this resolution, if we’re able to secure consensus in the manner that I think that we can, given the consensus about the gravity of this threat and how it’s a threat that can touch any country in the United Nations family, I think we have reason to be confident that this will be an additive resolution that will strengthen international norms but also pave the way for national governments to do more to deal with this problem.

MODERATOR: Al Jazeera. Yes.

QUESTION: Hi. Kristin Saloomey from Al Jazeera English. Will your – would the United States support a resolution, a ceasefire resolution which supports what the Palestinians are now asking for, some sort of a timetable? We heard from Hanan Ashrawi here yesterday that they wanted a timetable for an end to the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Is that something that the U.S. could support? And how do you respond to her criticism that the U.S. peace efforts have just been buying time for the Israelis to take more Palestinian land?

AMBASSADOR POWER: Well, I think our position on how to bring about peace in the Middle East is relatively well known. We believe that negotiations are the way in which a two-state solution can be achieved, must be achieved. We don’t think there are shortcuts or unilateral measures that can be taken at the United Nations or anyplace else that will bring about the outcome that the Palestinian people most seek.

In regards to your second question, I would just say that similarly the U.S. position on settlement activity is very well known. We have long made clear our opposition to settlement activity. We’re deeply concerned by the reports of expanded settlement activity over the last few days, and we call on the Government of Israel to reverse its decision. I think that these actions are contrary to Israel’s stated goal of achieving permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.

QUESTION: Does that not lend credence to the Palestinian argument though that the peace talks aren’t moving forward in the current form and that a change is needed, haven’t listened to your (inaudible) to stop settlement activity?

AMBASSADOR POWER: Again, if you mean to secure a permanent peace Israel has to be a part of that negotiation, just as a practical matter. So to think that you can come to New York and secure what needs to be worked out on the ground is not realistic, and in fact, is likely to have very counterproductive effects on whether on the sustainable ceasefire that we seek for what has just – the crisis that has just been – whereby a ceasefire has just been negotiated, you don’t want to do anything that interferes with that or risks that. And ultimately, in order, again, to secure the desired outcome, the parties are going to have to come together and it is going to have to be negotiated with the Government of Israel.

MODERATOR: New York Times.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can you elaborate a little bit more about why you think a Security Council resolution is necessary, post-ceasefire? And do you think that disarmament is critical – disarmament of Hamas militants, in particular, is crucial to such a resolution? And can the UN play some sort of a role, whether in monitoring or otherwise?

AMBASSADOR POWER: In order to answer your question about elaborating I would have had to have actually said what you said I said, which I didn’t. What I said is that we are open to the possibility that a resolution can be added and then can help build on what has been achieved in the Cairo context. But those negotiations, again, are underway, and in terms of the specifics about what would cross that threshold for us for the Council as a whole, I’m just not in a position to comment on that at this time.


QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Nabil Abi-Saab, Alhurra TV station. Do you believe that you can – the U.S. and the international community can deal with ISIS in Iraq alone? Because you know that ISIS is also existent in Syria. So are you going to work on this point in your resolution, or any outcome that might come out of the 25th meeting? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR POWER: Thank you. I think there’s no question that ISIL has enjoyed a safe haven in Syria that has allowed it to amass the kind of weaponry and resources that it then was able to bring to bear in Iraq. It does not – ISIL does not respect that border; does not even see a border, except in so far as it seeks to seize crossing points. So there’s no question that dealing with ISIL over time in the way that President Obama has spoken to is going to require dealing with ISIL across the region wherever it exists.

What I cannot do is speak again very specifically at this point to precisely what form that takes. The moderate opposition in Syria has been at war with ISIL in pitched battle, really, since December of last year. And one of the reasons that the moderate opposition has lost territory is because it chose to take on this monstrous terrorist organization. So certainly, as President Obama spoke to last week, strengthening the moderate opposition and supporting their efforts is going to be very, very important.

But suffice it to say, president Obama is in constant touch with all of the members of his cabinet and his national security team, and I think the question of Syria and how the ISIL phenomenon gets dealt with in Syria is one that is being considered at the very highest levels in a very urgent manner.

MODERATOR: Jonathan.

QUESTION: Jonathan Wachtel with Fox News. Some might argue that September 25th is three weeks from now, and really a resolution or action on the foreign fighter issue needs to be brought forward, that it should be addressed right now in a more significant way than to wait for President Obama to show up.

And another question related to Syria and ISIS. The nucleus of ISIS is operating in Syria. You say that you can’t discuss some of the details, but shouldn’t there be efforts now underway to try to get Security Council approval for the U.S. to do what it’s doing in Iraq?

AMBASSADOR POWER: I – let me speak to the foreign terrorist fighter issue. What this – what we would envisage this resolution does is, again, to strengthen the ability of governments around the world to curb the flow of their citizens into war zones, have better information sharing or intelligence sharing so they know who those individuals are, so that they’re better able to track them, so that they can alert other governments. I mean, it’s basically taking advantage of the kind of capillaries of the international system to ensure that governments are outpacing the ability of the foreign terrorist fighters to take advantage of those systems.

In the event that President Obama and his team – we, his team – are able to secure the resolution that we envisage, it will still require a huge amount of hard work on the back end in – inside national boundaries. It will require work by the member states of the United Nations to, again, curb that flow, to deal with the financing, to counter violent extremism. I mean, these are hugely challenging, long-term endeavors. So that is what we have in mind for the resolution.

With regard to ISIL and the horrors that it is perpetrating in real time, you have seen the United States be responsive to the appeals of the Iraqi Government, and the appeals of particular communities on the ground – most recently in Amirli where people there finally have seen a weeks-long, again, monstrous siege broken, thanks to the efforts of the United States and our partners, and also to – principally to Iraqi forces on the ground. And again it will be the President who decides what the contours of the campaign against ISIL look like. What we are focused on now though is the recognition that any campaign against ISIL is going to have to be comprehensive – not simply military – but also is going to have to involve stakeholders form around the world.

And it will not suffice if it is the United States and just the few partners who have stepped up at this point dealing with this threat. We need all hands on deck. And we think that the universal revulsion at ISIL, the universal recognition of the threat that ISIL poses to the region and the broader international community, and the overwhelming support for U.S. action so far put us in a very strong position to mobilize that coalition, again, along the lines that Secretary Kerry and President Obama have spoken to at this point. And we recognize that part of what that coalition will have to deal with is the problem with ISIL in Syria.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Talal al Haj from Al Arabiya news channel. Madam Ambassador, the Palestinian leadership has been discussing this strategy, the new strategy they want to adopt not only with the leadership of Hamas but also with the Saudis and with the Egyptians and two days ago with the leadership of the faction of Palestinians. It really – and also today they’re discussing it in the State Department in D.C., Saeb Erekat and head of intelligence is also there. They want delineation of the borders, preferably to the 1967 and also determining a date maybe within – after three years of ending their occupation. And they are also saying that if this is not done, they will ask the occupying authority, which is Israel, to take all the responsibility of the six million Palestinians living under occupation, including taxing, cleaning streets, hospitals, and schools. It’s going to be discussed on the 7th of September in Egypt by – with all the foreign ministers, by President Abbas. What can the United States, as the honest broker, stop the deterioration of this situation? What can you offer the Palestinians in hope?

AMBASSADOR POWER: Well, you are more familiar with the details of what is being proposed, and I’m not going to comment on proposals that we haven’t seen. You’re right that Secretary Kerry is holding meetings today, and perhaps he will engage publicly in the wake of those meetings. I have nothing on that. In terms of the larger issue, I think what people saw from the United States over the better part of the last year is a relentless effort on the part of Secretary Kerry to try to advance the cause of a two-state solution and advance the cause of an independent Palestinian state living side by side in peace with its neighbor through negotiations. Those negotiations did not produce the outcome that we sought, and we’ve seen in the last two months the devastating impact of a military confrontation when it takes hold.

So nothing underscores the urgency of securing, again, a negotiated two-state solution like the crisis in Gaza and the heartbreak that so many people on both sides suffered throughout that crisis. At this point, really, given that I’m not even familiar with the proposals and we haven’t had a chance to process them, I will only underscore again that unilateral actions, particularly after negotiations have broken down, may be appealing to people. They may seem as if they can get you the outcome that you seek, but there is no two-state solution that can be brought about unilaterally. It is going to have to be negotiated with the Government of Israel.

MODERATOR: Last question is Matthew.

QUESTION: Matthew Lee, Inner City Press. Thanks for the briefing and, on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, hoping for a (inaudible) stakeouts after consultations to hear what happened and ask you about it. I wanted to ask about Libya and Burundi. On Libya, I know that the U.S., UK, and France, with Germany and Italy, have been issuing a lot of joint statements, but what’s the role of the Security Council, especially now that there have been airstrikes reportedly by regional countries supporting militias there?

And on Burundi, I know that you visited there, and I wanted to know what’s the status of the UN looking into allegations that the ruling party was arming its youth wing and trying to get the release of this human rights defender, Mbonimpa, who is, I believe still in jail after several months. So those are the two questions, Libya and Burundi. Thanks.

AMBASSADOR POWER: On Libya, as you know, the security environment deteriorated to such an extent that U.S. personnel had to depart the country because of the fighting that was going on near our embassy, but I want to underscore that that has in no way diminished our role or that of our partners whether inside the Council or internationally, regionally, and in terms of other stakeholders at trying to support the efforts of the Libyan people above all and the Libyan Government, the elected government to bring this crisis to an end. It’s no secret that with so many arms in the country, so many non-state actors, this has proven more than challenging, and the crisis has escalated over recent weeks rather that diminished.

I think we are very supportive of the new – Special Representative Leon’s efforts, and we are hopeful that he can be point person. As you know, his predecessor really made an effort to use the UN good offices to try to facilitate national dialogue among the parties, but it’s safe to say that not enough came of those efforts. And now perhaps in light of the human toll that this crisis is taking, the massive displacement, the fear that people in Tripoli, Benghazi, and elsewhere are experiencing in light of these – this fighting, maybe that will add urgency to the sort of efforts behind the scenes for people to forge some kind of national consensus.

It has happened in more difficult circumstances even than this one, but no one can overstate the challenge that the Libyan people face, again, above all given how militarized the situation has become. When it comes to the Council, that’s exactly what we will discuss, again, when we have our consultations. And we’ve just passed a resolution, as you know, aimed at halting the flow of arms into Libya, sanctioning those who are illegally bringing in arms, and we don’t pretend that that resolution is a panacea, again, given the amount of arms on the ground and given the networks that exist on the black market and elsewhere to bring in arms, but we think this could make a difference, and we’re very eager to hear from Mr. Leon and, again, from the Libyan leadership about the kinds of other steps the Council can take.

Again, this is an issue on which notwithstanding a history of some division on aspects related to Libya, everyone in the Council, as you saw, again, with the speed with which we were able to suspend or to sort of change the presumption on arms flows into the country where any arms flow has to be approved by the Council, this is something I think, again, if there are proposals on the table, I think the Council can come to agreement.

On Burundi, I personally raised the case of the human rights defender and lawyer that you mentioned many, many times publicly and privately with the Burundian leadership. I think the – I suppose the situation on the ground has not changed materially since we last engaged on this. We still have real concerns about the closing of political space, the walking away from aspects of the Arusha Accords, which have been the foundation on which Burundi’s stability and peace and reconciliation have been predicated. All of those concerns remain, and they were raised by myself and by other American officials in the African Leaders Summit when President Nkurunziza visited not long ago.

The only thing I can say I guess beyond that at this point is that we are also deeply committed to ensuring that the UN maintains a role – an important role on the ground in Burundi in the coming weeks, particularly as we approach the elections, which are likely to be a very tense time, given what the government has done against opposition parties, and given that, again, the circumstances for civil society and the opposition have grown much more difficult in recent weeks. We don’t have reason to expect that things are suddenly going to open and that’s going to create tension, and I will note that the Council, I think, has met more on Burundi in recent months than probably in any other analogous period.

So again, this is something that I think we have made our views as a council and we have made our views bilaterally speaking by national capacity very well known to the Burundi authorities at a very combustible time. Thank you, everybody.